This is the first year I can remember canning tomatoes in December. My vines languished in open revolt throughout the summer, protesting heat and drought. Yet August showers brought September flowers and October tomatoes. Thankful to God for His tender mercies and hopeful of some tomato redemption, I let the fruit “abide in the vine.” Alas, the waning autumn sun was not meet for the task and moonlight ripens no fruit.
Scottish divine, Thomas Chalmers noted the same effect between the entertaining, self-help, power-of-positive-thinking type preaching of his day and the spiritual poverty of the people. He aptly remarked that such preaching was “like a winter’s day, short and clear and cold. The brevity is good, the clarity is better; the coldness is fatal. Moonlight preaching ripens no harvest.”
Chalmers could have been describing the preaching of our day and the consequent spiritual poverty evident in our own society. We say we long for revival in our nation, but am skeptical that we are patient enough for it. We want some mass hysteria; a divine lightening bolt that suddenly reverses the spiritual polarity of our nation. Yet our God is a God of means. He is a God who uses history for the unfolding of his redemptive purposes. History reveals that revival follows reformation and that reformation follows the recovery of expository, gospel preaching.
The Middle Ages, steeped in superstition and error, had no lack of interesting preaching. Its art and rhetoric; its value as entertainment was without rival in the frivolities of Medieval life. Yet it lacked the sunlight of the gospel. It had the form of godliness but was bereft of gospel power. Calvin describes this preaching in his “Reply to Sadolet.”
“Indeed what one sermon was theere from which old wives might not carry off more fantasies than they could devise at their own fireside in a month? For, as sermons were then usually divided, the first half was dovted to the misty questions of the schools which might astonish the rude populace, while the second contained smooth storeis, or not unamusing speculations, by which the people might be excited to cheerfulness. Only a few expressions were thrown in from the Word of God, that by their majesty they might procure credit for these frivolities. But as soon as the Reformers raised the standard, all these absurdities in a moment disappeared from among us.”
The Reformation grew in the soil of expository, gospel preaching. Calvin’s description bears out the truth of Solomon’s words that there is nothing new under the sun. Today’s preaching often aims merely to excite the hearers to cheerfulness and tell a few smooth stories. Yet such moonlight preaching ripens no harvest.
Do you want revival? Then “delight yourself in the Law of the Lord.” How eager are you to be in worship and hear God’s Word preached? Are you complaining with your lips or your feet or you mind because your preacher dares to carve a thick slab of the meat of the Word and keep you past noon to chew on it? Are you following Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 6:19, to “pray also for [your pastor], that words may be given to [him] in opening [his] mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel?” How willing are you to be examined by the living and active Word which penetrates to the deepest thoughts and intents of the heart?
There is an inseperable connection between preaching and revival. Instances in the Scriptures and in history are to numerous to recount. The Spirit is the agent, but the Word is the instrument. Revival is wrought by the agency of the Spirit through the instrumentality of the Word. If you are praying for revival, then you are praying for the preaching and hearing of the Word. Pray that your pastor will preach boldly. Pray that he will have time to study. Pray that he will not become discouraged. Pray that you will be ready to listen and bear fruit and serve the body of Christ.
For moonlight is lovely to behold, but it ripens no fruit.